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Shell’s Arctic Clean Air Permits Revoked

Alaska Native and environmental groups have successfully thrown a wrench in Shell’s plans to drill exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

An order by the Environmental Appeals Board remanded Shell Offshore Inc.’s clean air permits, which were granted by the Environmental Protection Agency. Shell spokesman Curtis Smith told The Associated Press that the company cannot proceed with the proposed drilling plans in 2011 without the permits.

The review by the federal board found that the EPA’s estimation of the impact on Alaska Native communities was too limited. It also contended that the agency’s analysis of impact caused by nitrogen dioxide emissions from drill ships and support vessels was inadequate.

The appeal was filed by the Arctic Eskimo Whaling Commission, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice on behalf of other organizations.

Rebecca Noblin, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in Anchorage, said the ruling coincides with the groups’ assertion that the EPA “rushed” the drilling permits through the process. “It’s time for the administration to take a step back and rethink the foolhardy rush to drill in the fragile Arctic Ocean,” she told the Alaska Dispatch in an e-mailed statement.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Quality Standards & Emissions, Drilling for Oil, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

Group Suggests More Salmon-Eating Sea Lions Be Killed

A task force is urging the federal fisheries service to allow more sea lions near Bonneville Dam to be killed or trapped.

The group of fishermen, tribes, state agencies and others issued a report to the National Marine Fisheries Service last week stating that the sea lion policies currently in place haven’t been effective at bolstering endangered fish populations.

The sea lions prey on salmon and steelhead that gather at the base of the Bonneville Dam near Portland, Ore.

A 2008 federal ruling stated that Oregon, Washington, and Idaho could kill up to 85 sea lions a year until 2012. The states have euthanized 27 sea lions to date and relocated 10 more to zoos and aquariums.

But the Humane Society of the United States called the program into question this year, and in November a federal appeals court ruled that state wildlife officials should not be allowed to kill sea lions when humans are responsible for comparable or larger catches of salmon and steelhead.

The agency has until early January to decide whether to appeal the decision, AP reported Tuesday.

In its three-year review of the original policy, the panel said that more animals need to be trapped and shot from land or boats in order for the program to be effective.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Dams & Infrastructure, Fish, Mammals, Oceans & Coastlines0 Comments

Texas Farmers, Pecan Growers Blame Vegetation Death on Power Plant

Environmentalists, scientists, plant specialists, and farmers say that sulfur dioxide from a Texas coal-fired power plant is causing extensive swaths of vegetation death in the region.

Pecan growers have reported plant devastation near the Fayette Power Project, a 30-year-old facility in Ellinger, Texas. They say the power plant, which is operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority, emits sulfur dioxide that has caused thousands of trees to die and nut production to steadily plummet.

“There was an environmental catastrophe,” local horticulturalist Jim Berry told MSNBC.

“It wasn’t just the pecan groves,” he said. “It was the entire ecosystem that was under duress.”

Sulfur dioxide has been known to kill plants in other parts of the country, AP reports.

The Lower Colorado River Authority claims that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the plant is responsible for the dying trees, blaming the damage on recent droughts instead.

The Environmental Protection Agency toured some of the farms and is currently reviewing data, AP reports.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Industrial Pollution, Plants, Algae, & Fungi (Botany)0 Comments

EPA Takes Over Texas Carbon Emission Permits

The Environmental Protection Agency Thursday announced its plans to take over carbon dioxide permitting of any new power plants and refineries in Texas, citing the state’s refusal to comply with emissions regulations going into effect Jan. 2.

Texas industries have openly opposed the Obama administration’s Clean Air Act, a program designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They claim that the cuts will threaten productivity, and that the economy, in turn, will take a hit.

The EPA said Thursday that it was reassuming the state’s Clean Air Act Permits because “officials in Texas have made clear . . . they have no intention of implementing this portion of the federal air permitting program,” The Associated Press reported.

“EPA prefers that the state of Texas and all states remain the permitting authority for (greenhouse gas) sources,” the agency said in a statement. “In the same way that EPA has worked with other states and local agencies, the agency stands ready to do the same with (Texas).”

The EPA constructed a framework for carbon emissions regulations in seven other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming.

The agency also devised a timetable for establishing the cuts for all U.S. facilities and power plants. It plans to propose performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions beginning in July for powerplants and for oil refineries by December. The standards will be finalized in May 2012 for powerplants and November 2012 for refineries.

Gov. Rick Perry spokeswoman spoke out against the EPA’s decision to directly issue air permits in Texas.

“The EPA’s misguided plan paints a huge target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers by implementing unnecessary, burdensome mandates on our state’s energy sector, threatening hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs and imposing increased living costs on Texas families,” Cesinger said, according to the San Antonio Express.

An estimated 167 new or expanding projects would be subject to the EPA takeover. Texas lays claim to more oil refineries, chemical plants, and coal-fired power plants than any other state and produces the most greenhouse gas emissions and industrial pollution in the country, AP reports.

The new carbon emissions standards were adopted after a 2007 Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases should be classified as pollutants under the Clean Air Act and EPA research in 2009 revealed that the gases have a harmful effect on human health.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Coal, Courts & Litigation, Drilling for Oil, Energy Industry, Global Warming, Laws & Regulations, Oil & Petroleum, Ozone, Policies, Pollution Prevention0 Comments

North Korea Threatens “Sacred War”

North Korea threatened to start a “sacred” nuclear war against South Korea Thursday after Seoul staged more artillery drills near the North Korean border.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that defense chief Kim Yong Chun announced that Korea was “fully prepared to launch a sacred war” against its neighbor. Kim said that the North would make use of its nuclear resources if attacked and warned the South against encroaching upon North Korean territory.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have mounted steadily this week as South Korea staged military drills on Yeonpyeong Island. Last month the North shelled the island, killing two civilians and two marines.

South Korea staged the largest live-fire drills on Thursday, mobilizing missiles artillery, attack helicopters, rocket systems, and fighter jets. About 800 troops participated in the exercise, UPI reported.

South Korean officials said the display was meant to dissuade North Korea from provocative action.

UPI reported that the White House maintains its support of South Korea.

“I think exercises that have been announced well in advance, that are transparent, that are defensive in nature should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “Everybody, I think, in the world is aware that they’re happening. And they are exercises that are defensive in nature. The United States is obviously supportive of the Republic of Korea.”

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Military, Policies0 Comments

START Treaty Passes in 71-26 Vote

The U.S. Senate cleared the New START treaty Wednesday in a 71-to-26 vote.

The U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty, one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities for the lame-duck Congress, will reduce the number of U.S. and Russian missiles by a third and implement on-site inspections of nuclear weapons facilities after a one-year suspension.

The agreement was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 8 last spring.

Vice President Joe Biden acted as Senate president during the final vote on the treaty, which will last 10 years.

“This is one of those rare times in the United States Senate where we have it within our power to safeguard or endanger humankind,” Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, Foreign Relations Committee chairman and one of the floor debate managers, said prior to the ratification vote.

56 Democratic senators and two independents voted in support of the treaty.

13 Republicans also joined in voting to approve the treaty, including: Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Robert Bennett of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, George Voinovich of Ohio, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

President Obama said Wednesday that the arms control agreement will help the U.S. stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

The international community has also praised the Senate’s ruling. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the treaty “a firm and clear message in support of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation,” AP reported.

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Laws & Regulations, Policies, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

North Korea Doesn’t Retaliate After South Korean Drills

North Korea appears to be attempting to ease tensions with its neighbor.

Relations on the Korean peninsula have been strained ever since the South conducted military drills last month. The North shelled Yeonpyeong Island in response to the drills, killing two marines and two civilians.

Since then, the North has threatened to retaliate against the South for conducting more artillery drills. But on Monday, the country made no move after the South carried out a 90-minute series of drills.

According to the Associated Press, North Korea called the incident a “reckless military provocation,” but said it would not react because Seoul changed its firing zones so that the South Korean shells landed father south of the North’s shores.

South Korea launched fighter jets and evacuated hundreds of civilians along the border in anticipation of an attack, AP reported.

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Military0 Comments

Ethanol Fuel Additive Law Brings Automakers to Appeals Court

U.S. carmakers and engine manufacturers have filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over its decision to allow the sale of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol.

The EPA ruled on Oct. 13th that filling stations could start selling gasoline containing more of the corn-based additive for vehicles built in 2007 or later. The current blend contains 10 percent ethanol.

The various organizations Monday asked a federal appeals court in Washington to review the October decision. They claim the approval of the E15 blend violates the Clean Air Act, and that the fuel could damage engines.

“We want to be sure that any new fuel will not increase air pollution, harm engines or endanger consumer safety,” Michael J. Stanton, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, said in a joint statement with the other members of the Engine Products Group, according to BusinessWeek.

The Renewable Fuels Association,  an ethanol trade group, said the EPA should have allowed E15 for more models.

“The only way to meet the nation’s energy, economic and environmental goals as put forth in the Renewable Fuels Standard is to increase ethanol consumption,” the group said in a statement.

The suit, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 10-1414, was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Drilling for Oil, Energy Industry, Laws & Regulations, Oil & Petroleum, Policies0 Comments

Lunar Eclipse to Shade the Sky Tonight

The year’s only lunar eclipse will occur late tonight or in the wee hours tomorrow, depending on where you live.

Providing the weather is clear, people in North and Central America and a small region of South America will have the best view of the phenomenon. Western Europe will catch only the beginning glimpses of the eclipse while western Asia will see only the end.

“It’s perfectly placed so that all of North America can see it,” eclipse expert Fred Espenak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center told The Associated Press.

The event is expected to last about 3 1/2 hours, and will begin at 11:41 p.m. PST or 2:41 a.m. EST.

When the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow, the earth blocks the sun from illuminating the moon. This is only possible when the moon is full. The totality phase – when the Earth, moon and sun are perfectly aligned, blocking all of the sun’s rays from the moon – will last about 72 minutes.

Indirect sunlight will pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, coloring the moon an eerie orange or red. Scientists say ash and dust from recent volcanic eruptions may darken the eclipsed moon to a deeper red or brown.

North America is lucky enough to have the best seats in the house for 2010′s only total lunar eclipse, but won’t be so fortunate in 2011. The region will miss the June 2011 eclipse entirely, and catch only part of the eclipse expected to occur next December.

Posted in Air, Atmosphere, & Weather, Climate Science & Weather, Visibility0 Comments

Nuevo Laredo: 140 Inmates Escape from Mexican Prison

About 140 inmates have escaped from a prison in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico Friday in the most significant Mexican prison break since President Felipe Calderon began his crackdown on drug trafficking four years ago.

The northern Mexico town is located across the border from Laredo, Texas.

Reuters reported that inmates exited through the main vehicle entrance of the prison. The country’s federal interior department is pointing the finger at local authorities for not providing adequate security of the facility.

Later in the day Friday, an SUV exploded outside a police station on the outskirts of the wealthy business hub Monterrey. Authorities have not yet commented on whether the two incidents may be linked.

The blast injured two people and knocked out power in the small town of Zuazua, a major battlezone in the war between drug gangs and police.

Posted in International Relations & Treaties, Laws & Regulations, Military, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

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